How Much Is Too Much Photoshop ?

•October 17, 2012 • 12 Comments

Thors Well Sunset – Oregon Coast

For example, some photographers choose to combine multiple exposures together in a process known as HDR. This method captures the whole tonal range of the scene from darkest to light by combining several exposures together. HDR images have become a subject of much controversy over which people have a wide range of opinions.The results vary from beautiful to “over the top”.  Some who lean more toward traditionalism feel that every photographic image should come from a single exposure and that each image should be presented as it was captured by the camera. For me I use a combination of methods that enable me to achieve a final image that tells the story I want to tell. From my perspective there is no right answer to which approach is correct.

For the non professional photographer each is entitled to his own vision and each has the right to present it as he sees fit. What about the professional photographer? Do they have an obligation to present the scene as it is in the camera or are they allowed to have creative freedom when it comes to post processing? These days it is not uncommon for magazines and photo contests to request that images avoid excessive Photoshop and to attach the original image with the final results.

With the advancements of Photoshop, photographers are now creating images that cross the boundaries into “digital art”. In other words the image combines elements from multiple images or doesn’t resemble anything that could be found in nature. The results are often stunning and beautiful, but the image may look more like a painting than a photograph based in realism. Personally speaking, when it relates to selling images the competition is fierce and often publishers will make a decision to choose an image based on a thumbnail. Therefore, the images chosen often look unnatural. You can see evidence of this in magazines, calendars, and even photo contests. There is no arguing that brightly colored and stylized images are popular these days.

If you make a living from photography what are the guidelines when it comes to realism? I don’t have the answers but I know, in an effort to express myself and my artistic vision, that I often push the limits as far as I can. I am grateful to make my living as a photographer. It seems that as photographers become more skilled in the art of digital image developing the debate over the use of new digital image developing techniques versus a more traditional approach to photography will continue.

Advantages Of A Quality Neutral Density Filter

•May 24, 2012 • 5 Comments
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Recently I was lucky enough to make a trip to the coastline of California and more specifically Big Sur. Anytime I am shooting ocean landscapes, filters becomes a big part of the mood I am trying to recreate.  I am a big fan of Singh-Ray filters for many reasons but my favorite filter is the 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter. One of my favorite things to do when I am shooting oceans is to create mood by shooting longer exposures. Just by using this filter you have to the ability to completely change the direction of the image. For example, I normally would shoot an image at around half-second or faster to stop the action of the wave. This gives the appearance of a fast moving explosive image that draws the viewer into the image. This type of image usually is filled with powerful explosiveness that really holds a lot of tension. But with the 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filter I have the ability to change the expectations of the viewer and create a thought-provoking image that instills a sense of calmness to the image. There is nothing wrong with a fast-action image but it is also nice to sometimes go in an unexpected direction in terms of mood. In today’s market of digital photography, many professional photographers need to be able to show similar results in their RAW images to publishers and editors. The need for the scene to be as close as possible to how the scene was originally captured is of vital importance for magazines and books.

Twilight Hour On Pfeiffer Beach

The 5-Stop Mor-Slo is really unique from other ND filters that I have tried in the past. Other ND filters come with a colorcast that can be difficult to remove in post processing without removing other colors. One of the techniques I am fond of using with ND filters is to use them when the sun is still visible along the horizon. The appearance of a long exposure with the sun still present is very deceptive to the eye when used correctly in an image. In situations like this I will stack two 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters to get even a longer exposure. With the sun visibly present I can get more then a 30-second exposure, which can really look unique with the last light hitting elements in the foreground. The reason I stress the uniqueness of this is that once you get over 5-Stop ND filters with other brand names you get inconsistent results that never work with the sun present. What often happens with other brand names when it comes to ND filters is banding of black strips across the image, color casts across the image, and most importantly uneven exposures across the image. The higher the number in terms of ND filter the less consistent the results. With Singh-Ray I can use either a 5-Stop Mor-Slo or two stacked together and still get the same consistent results. The images are clean with no color casts. This is important because in post processing you can remove color casts but it also removes color you don’t want removed. Colors like the warm last light in an image that you are trying to capture gets mixed in with a brown color cast which is almost impossible to separate. The results are spot on in terms of exposure and lack any of the spotting you often find with other ND filters. If you are going to stack the 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters it is important that you get the ones that are threaded in the front so they can be mounted together. I am often asked the difference between the Singh-Ray 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter and the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. You can use the 5-Stop Mor-Slo for scenes that need a wide-angle lens without vignetting. The filters are thin enough that you can stack two of them together and still get fairly wide scenes without signs of the lens in the image.  So, when it comes it finding a filter to use when shooting long exposures and you need clean exposures, nothing gets results like the Singh-Ray 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter.

Along The Big Sur Coastline, Davenport

Top Ten Tips For Adding Impact To Fall Images

•September 30, 2011 • 6 Comments

Fall Abstract For Fields Of Color, Northern Prince Edward Island, Canada

Top Ten Tips For Adding Impact To Fall Images
By Kevin McNeal

When it comes to getting great autumn images there are many things that you can do to achieve success. The following list is just a brief summary of the top tips to adding impact. I encourage to go out and shoot as much as you can this fall and come up with your own top ten next year.

1) Use the light to your advantage: It is necessary to consider the light when trying to maximize color when shooting fall foliage. The golden light of early mornings and late evening sunset work best. Avoid the harsh contrast light of midday light that strips subjects of their color. Also, do not be afraid to shoot in overcast weather just be careful not to include too much sky in your shot.

Forest Of Color, The Laurentians, Quebec, Canada

2) Find colors that are complementary: Finding color in autumn is easy; trying to make visual sense is not. This means you need to consider how you arrange the colors in your image. Look for ways to match complementary colors or color contrasts. More specifically, I will choose compositions that accentuate the red of the leaves against the green grass or blue sky.

3) Try different perspectives: The best way to achieve this is to use a variety of lenses and focal lengths. There are many ways to showcase autumn; don’t lock yourself into one approach. I always shoot both wide-angle and telephoto. The wide-angle does a great job of showing the larger landscape and the color within its environment. It gives the viewer a better understanding of the whole scene. On the other hand, the telephoto is great for isolating smaller details against contrasting textures. Both give a completely different feel to the mood but equally effective.

4) Shoot with a polarizer: always shoot with a polarizer to maximize color: Using a polarizer can really add an immediate impact to your image. The polarizer deepens the color of blue skies, provides more saturated colors, and reduces glare and reflections in bright or sunny conditions.

Collage Of Color, Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia, Canda

5) Include reflections in the visual design: in a sense look for ponds, lakes, or any body of water to mirror the impact of color doubling the beauty. Water adds a sense of dimension and motion that adds to the depth and substance of the image.

6) The tranquility of water and its reflection brings a subtle mood to your autumn images. When photographing using water don’t be afraid to break the rules of thirds. This is the time to go with a 50/50 in terms of composition.

Floor Level, New Brunswick, Canada

7) Use color in the image to tell a story: Use color deliberately in your story telling. Color is important but it is how we use it that really tells a story. Use the strongest colors in your foreground to grab your viewers attention; from their find patterns of color that connect the foreground to the background to really connect the image and tell a story. Too often we see one part of the image bold with great colors and nothing elsewhere. The image falls apart.

Le Chateau In Autumn, Quebec City, Canada

8) Shoot fall colors after a period of rain: Although not mentioned a lot in tips about fall photography. I have found my most successful fall images right after a rainstorm. The reasoning behind this is simple; the wet leaves are at their most vivid and the addition of rain adds another dimension to the image. Remember to combine this with a polarizer to reduce glare and reflection.

9) Look for unique perspectives: Too often we see the same type of fall photography. The stock image of the fallen leaf on the ground; the forest of aspens, or the collage combination of several colors along a backcountry road. Challenge yourself to step out of the box and come up with something completely new. Creativity is what will set your photography above others.

Alive With Color - The Laurentians, Quebec, Canada

10) Remember to not forget about the basics of photography just because of color: Although hard to describe I believe this is the most important tip to fall photography. Too often I become overwhelmed with the color and start shooting at the first sign of color. Because of the power of color I forget everything else in terms of composition. It is important to step back and take a deep breath. Maybe take a day to take in the sights without shooting. Once you have become accustomed to the color then you can coordinate color with composition. Remember color is just one part of what makes fall photography so interesting. Look for ways to bring all of your set skills into the image.

Island Of Isolation - The Swift River, White Mountains, New Hampshire

So that is a small list of tips to improve your fall photography. It is important to combine these tips with your style of photography to come up with a winning combination. Keep pressing the boundaries of creativity and develop a style that people can recognize as your own.

Please feel free to email me with any questions you might have:

Snake River, Grand Tetons NP,Wyoming

“If Something Can Go Wrong It Probably Will”-Kevin McNeal

•September 27, 2010 • 16 Comments
Storm Moving Over The Adirondacks

Storm Moving Over The Adirondacks

Welcome back to those who have had a chance to read some of the Photo Cascadia photoblogs. Well I have come to the conclusion after several articles and blogs I am not that person who will ever be good at writing how-to articles in photography. The one thing though that seems to happen to me are crazy stories that seem to follow me where I ever I go. So I thought I would start sharing some of my stories that people might get a laugh out of and maybe even learn something. So enjoy!

Last year I was lucky enough to get a month photographing back east in New England shooting fall colors. I was able to visit the states of New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. So after weeks and months of preparing to get everything just right for this trip I was ready. I had one of everything so nothing would be missed or so I thought. My first stop, the Adirondacks in New York to shoot Heart Lake. Ever since I saw the cover to Anthony Cooks’ book “Fall Colors Across North America” of Heart Lake I made this my mission for the last four years.

Heart Lake can best be seen by a moderate hike that leads you to this plateau that overlooks endless hills and color with a stunning lake situated in the middle of this paradise. Now I want to say up front that anywhere in the Adirondacks in autumn is beautiful but for me nothing was going to stop me from getting to photograph Heart Lake.

As I pulled in to the trailhead weather started to turn for the worse and the clouds were moving in. I would now have to run up this trail trying to get something to shoot before the mountain peaks were covered in fog. So without much thought to it I grabbed my bag and hit the trailhead. So far I was making good time and things were looking up; I started to think maybe I might get this “dream picture”.

It was at that point things turned upside down; rain was now coming down in buckets and the muddy trail was turning into a mudslide making it near impossible to get up the trail. It did not matter I was not going to be stopped. As fate would have it rain turned into snow and now I was heading into unsafe terrority.

Mount Joe And Heart Lake Immersed In Fog

Mount Joe And Heart Lake Immersed In Fog

Mount Joe In The Adirondacks Immersed In Fog
Parts of the trail were falling apart on me and I turned to my tripod for support. I was using it to get down a short descent on an otherwise uphill battle. I had come across some steep boulders that were surrounded by wet mud. As I placed my tripod right were I needed it for support – it snapped! I was using a lighter tripod due to traveling restrictions. So here I was inches away from my dream shot and no tripod. Make things worse I had cut my head and made things more difficult for my hip. The problem was this my only tripod; I decided to make the best of it using available sticks and my camera bag for support. Things were not going well and I was getting desperate.

The thought I was day one into a month long trip and no tripod was not fairing too well. With blood dripping, rain pounding, and weather only getting worse I headed back down the mountain with only a few satisfactory shots (not the compositions I was looking for). I now could not move fast due to my hip and being a bit disoriented.

So now time was my enemy again and I had to get out before dark. I know what you are thinking; get out your headlamp or flashlight. Well that would have been great except I forgot to get those out of the suitcase due to my rush to get to the top of the mountain. So I was now getting close to pure darkness and no compass, directions, and map to find my way down. I would have just followed the trail down if there was one but due to the rain that was sporadic at best. Well an hour later and the fear of God in me I made it down promising not to ever do this again. I ended up making the last bit by bushwhacking.

At last my car was in sight and I had forgotten all about my tripod and I was just thankful to get down the mountain. As I threw my wet clothes off I noticed the trunk was open; I had not closed it in my haste rush to get up the mountain. Things had been taken but nothing I could not have replaced. At least I had my camera with me and I was off to Vermont to look for a new tripod.

The next day while in Vermont I started to make my search for a new tripod and I was not near any camera stores. Who would have known no camera stores in Vermont or at least where I was. So I decided to break the cardinal rule of photography and handhold my camera using a higher ISO. This worked in midday but the minute the light got low I was in trouble. So I spent the first week without a tripod and only middle of the day shots.

While I was shooting at the infamous Jenne Farm in Vermont I had run into a group of photographers who were also traveling. After talking for a bit and noticing I was not using a tripod, they suggested I purchase one. I then explained what had happened and one of the guys offered me his second tripod to use. It was amazing someone was generous enough to allow me to borrow a tripod. After shooting had finished I returned the tripod only to be met with the most unselfish thing that has ever happened to me while doing this business. He told me to hang on to his tripod for the remainder of the trip and mail it back when it was convenient. I was truly at a loss for words and will always be thankful to him for that. The next few days were spent revisiting the places I had shot handheld; now I was a man with a tripod reading to photograph.

My fellow Photo Cascadia member, Adrian Klein best summed it up when he relayed to me “if something can wrong, it probably will- that is Murphy’s Law” especially if you only bring one of everything. I never forgot that one important saying. I now travel with two of everything including tripods thanks to my not so smart antics.

Mount Joe And Heart Lake From The Adirondacks

Mount Joe And Heart Lake From The Adirondacks

Working A Scene

•September 8, 2010 • 2 Comments
Point Atkinson Lighthouse Park Vancouver BC Canada

A summer sunset at Point Atkinson lighthouse in Lighthouse Park Vancouver BC on the way up to Whistler

In the following article, I have presented three images with the subject being the same. The only factor that changes is the composition in all three. Each image illustrates a different mood but each is equally effective.

Is there one that stands out above any of the others ?

In the first image I choose the composition as the strong foreground and warm reflected light off the rocks balanced the lighthouse well.
In the second the unusual shape of a triangle and the cool tones in the puddle offset the warmer tones in the background.
The third I choose because I liked the way the leading lines were positioned at the subject leading the eye right to it.
I will attempt to describe some of the thought processes I go through when “working a scene”.

This is a term I like to use when describing my approach to photographing. It is the process that a photographer takes part in when photographing a landscape that lies before them. For a good portion of photographers the likely series of events is arriving at a scene, pulling out a camera, and shooting from the first place that looks good. Not only does this pertain to many photographers but some of them also leave as soon as the sun sets.
Working a scene for a landscape photographer can mean different things. For myself though, it involves a series of actions that allow me to connect with the scene I am photographing. It has a special meaning so that I discover through exploration what moves about the scene; how do I convey that through the image to my viewer.
There are a few important things that can go a long ways to helping you improve your photography. It always begins with a concept or an idea; this idea then gets materialized into something more concrete such as scene that plays out in your head before hand. I like to think of this as pre-visualizing your subject ahead of time. Have something that you want to convey through mood such as illuminating your subject, how are going to lead your viewer’s eye to the subject, what kind of foreground are you going to want to include. There are many things to consider when working a scene that must be almost like a checklist in your mind before the camera even comes out of the bag. The following are some of the things that have worked for me.

Point Atkinson Lighthouse Park Vancouver BC Canada

A summer sunset at Point Atkinson lighthouse in Lighthouse Park Vancouver BC on the way up to Whistler

Before I ever visit a scene I have researched the area in terms of things I need to know about the place. These are things that will help get a feeling for the place, what kind of mood I want to convey, and when I need to be there. I get there with plenty of time to scout out possible locations and compositions. It is important to not even pull out the camera until scouting for a period of time. Once I feel like I have a good grasp on the location, I will work out ahead of time where I want to be in terms of the light before the sun sets, as the sun sets, and after the sun sets. All of these different scenarios convey completely different moods. It is important to know ahead of time by pre-visualizing what you hope to get out of the scene.
When the subject of composition is raised, every photographer has a style they invoke. Some like to find one particular composition and work that one scene the whole time; getting right in terms of exposure, framing, and impact. Others like will have several compositions worked out ahead of time and will be a plan a course of events on how to attack each composition. Each style has its benefits and drawbacks but what is important is that you find a method that works for you and that you are comfortable with. It is essential that a connection be made with the scene and that you deliberately choose an effective way to get that across to your viewer.
They are a few important things that go a long way to giving a scene that extra impact. Most of these things can be accomplished with the suggestions mentioned in this article. At the end of the day the most important thing is to make sure you are always having fun and that you never lose sight of why you are out in nature.

Point Atkinson Lighthouse Park Vancouver BC Canada

A summer sunset at Point Atkinson lighthouse in Lighthouse Park Vancouver BC on the way up to Whistler

Going Into The Wilderness Alone?

•August 31, 2010 • 20 Comments

Since I started photography I’ve always wanted to photograph Jefferson Park Wilderness in the Central Oregon Cascades. Jefferson Park is one of the most stunning places to see in Oregon. Ever since I saw the images from other photographers, I knew that I would have to visit this place someday. Every summer for roughly 2 weeks a year this area fills up with wildflowers. A few years ago I had signed up for a photo tour in Jefferson Park but due to weather the venue was moved to the Three Sisters Wilderness. So my dream would have to be put on hold for the time being. As every summer approached I anticipated getting up there but for one reason or another people could not join me; Jefferson Park Wilderness is one place that should not be traveled alone. In past years I had tried but by the time I made my move up there I was too early or too late. So this year I figured it would be the same thing and somehow I would miss my open window. This year has been on odd year for wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest with everything almost a month behind. The night before I get a phone call from fellow Photo Cascadia member Adrian Klein mentioning he was going to do the 11 mile round-trip into Jefferson Park. Here was my chance to visit this place that had seemed to have eluded me until now. Hesitantly I asked if I could join and concern came up whether I could make it because of my replacement hip. I told him I would keep my backpack to 20 pounds and hike slow. Needless to say the very next day I found myself at the beginning of the trailhead everything ready to go. For the first 5 miles, we casually hiked while we reminisced about the past year. Just as we were coming to the top, something had gone terribly wrong with my hip. After further walking I had realized my hip popped out and I was 5+ miles from the car. After hobbling the last half-mile to the campsite, I told Adrian to go ahead and scout out some possible locations. I could not move at this point and decided to lay out in the dirt as I could not muster the strength to even put my tent up. In past similar experiences a few hours of doing nothing helped my hip but not this time. As sunset neared I asked Adrian if he could just carry my camera and tripod roughly 100 m to the first spot I could find flowers near the campsite. I ended up firing away a few shots and waited for Adrian to finish. Hobbling back to my camp I decided to turn in early. I went to bed assured that I would feel better tomorrow as long as I got a good nights rest. The next day I woke up and I could not even put any pressure on the leg or hip. I was not going to be able to shoot sunrise at the very minimum. Realizing we had no cell reception and no spot messenger to call emergency services, I would now have to hike out of here on my own two feet. After a discussion with Adrian about what to do next we decided he could carry a good portion of my camping gear; so we made some makeshift crutches for hiking poles and began the journey back down. In the end, I made it back to the car after a full day getting back, which should have only taken a few hours. If it had not been for my friend’s generosity and backpacking skills, I could have been in serious trouble. The ten essentials that Adrian always carried in his backpack came in very handy. The point of this story is that when traveling in the wilderness you should always travel with someone. You never know when something might happen that limits your mobility and puts you at risk. I also learned another lesson to expect the unexpected and always carry the ten essentials when backpacking. I will never forget this outing to Jefferson Park wilderness.

Using Filters To Overcome The Challenges Of The Palouse

•March 14, 2010 • 10 Comments

Rewards And Challenges of the Palouse

Every year I anxiously await the arrival of spring and its colors. And there is no better place to visit in spring then in the Palouse. The Palouse region can be found in southeastern Washington and also parts of North Central Idaho. It is the richest wheat growing area in the United States for many reasons. It also grows peas, barley, wheat, hay, lentils, and canola. But perhaps the Palouse is better known for its endless rolling hills of vivid green, rustic rural barns, spring wildflowers, and pastoral vistas that visually amaze the senses. To a photographer this is a dream of sensual landscapes and visual designs where the opportunities to shoot are everywhere. The pastorals are unique to the eye in color, pattern, and designs. And every photographer sees different designs and concepts. Spring is the best time to visit for the lush vivid greens; this is just after the seeds have been planted but before the harvest season. In the following weeks, after seedling, nature will spring from the ground its very own designs like an artist painting. As photogenic as the Palouse is, it can present many challenges when it comes to capturing what the scene looked like at the time of shooting. This is why I never make a trip to the Palouse without all my filters. Opportunities present themselves but exposures can be very tricky when trying to handle the light on the Palouse. This is because the weather conditions in the Palouse are always changing and trying to capture the light is challenging, as it is always moving. Within minutes weather can turn as weather systems move in. Not only do you have to be ready to move with the light, you need to also be able to handle the different exposures that change depending on where you are. Some of the following scenarios are very common and often a variety of filters are called for depending on the situation.

Although I do not shoot much during the day usually, in the Palouse I am always out in the field. I look for conditions of storms and high winds mixed with the sun. These dark clouds present high contrast scenes that call for Graduated Neutral Density Filters to capture detail in the sky. Often the sun is filtered through the clouds illuminating the foreground, and at the same time the darker clouds foreshadow what is to come. It is important in my images to show the mood that these clouds convey. I will spot meter the scene to accurately capture detail in both the foreground and background. I will often have to change quickly the number of stops on my Graduated ND filter to balance the scene and change in light.

Another situation that often occurs in the Palouse are fantastic sunrise/sunsets with spring wildflowers in the foreground. I need to capture the color in the foreground wildflowers and at the same time balance the colorful skies. To achieve this I need a Warming Polarizer to reproduce the stunning color in the wildflowers as well as balance the warmth of the skies with the foreground. I combine this with a Graduated Neutral Density Filter to expose for the foreground and retain detail in the sky as well as keep the saturated skies that balance with the foreground wildflowers.

The most exciting time in the Palouse is when the storms arrive and the wind creates a complete different scene. I try to scout ahead of time for potential scenes that will lend themselves to stormy weather conditions. This weather can make dramatic images with fast moving clouds taking on a life of its own. This is where I like to be creative by using a combination of the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter and the Mor-Slo ND filter. I will look to combine an element in the scene that is static with an element that is intentionally blurred. The two elements together inject movement into the scene. This can only be achieved by combining the two filters for a long exposure where the static subject is juxtaposed against the blur of the subject.

This combination of filters can also be achieved in situations that are not weather related. An example of this can be the blurred movement of a waterfall against the backdrop of a canyon. The stacking of filters blocks out enough light that subjects in the scene begin to take on new shapes and forms otherwise not seen without a longer exposure.

The most important filter I need to capture the beauty of the Palouse is the Singh-Ray LB Color Combo. This is the filter I use most, as it helps me recreate the stunning colors of the scene I saw with my eyes. I will often return many times within months to capture the few weeks of vibrant greens that seem to last for a short while. Once this occurs I only get one opportunity to capture the color. To get the most of the greens, I will find a composition I like beforehand and wait to capture the scene after the ground has become wet from the rain. The rain helps saturate and add an ethereal quality to the greens. The LB Color Combo allows me to capture the saturation of the fields without a loss of detail and balance this with the deep blue skies. Detail is so important when trying to capture saturation in high contrast scenes. The ambient light from the mix of clouds and sun can really enhance the greens of the pastorals and it is important to have the right filter to capture that moment.

Overall, a visit to the Palouse can be very rewarding yet challenging at times. Having the use of Singh-Ray filters at my disposal to handle the variety of difficult situations has helped re-establish the things I love most about the Palouse.

I hope you enjoyed this blog and if you have any questions do not hesitate to ask me. If you have never been to the Palouse this is one place you have to visit, especially in the Spring.
If you are looking to get here but not sure where to go join us on our workshop here in May where we will take you to some of the best locations in the Palouse and prime time.
For more information please check out our website at


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